Recalcitrant Assistant Referees

John, a senior amateur Referee, asks:

Does an assistant referee have the power to ask a spectator to leave?
When the spectator won’t leave, does the assistant referee have the power to dismiss a coach?
When the coach won’t leave, does he have the power to announce the game is over?
If he then leaves, is the game over? What about if both assistant referees leave?

(Yes, this all happened – I was the center, not agreeing with anything he was doing, but with both ARs leaving, I felt I had no choice but to end the game, thus validating everything he did.)

Answer

These are difficult questions but we will try to sort out the options.

First and foremost, under current USSF guidance for referees in this country, neither the referee nor any other official has the power to ask or demand that a spectator leave.  We have no direct control of anyone who is not a player, substitute, etc., or team official.  There is a video prepared a few years back as a companion to the “Ask, Tell, Dismiss” guidance which is specifically aimed at spectators.  In brief, the referee (and only the referee) engages in a version of Ask/Tell with regard to a spectator but only through the coach.  In other words, if a spectator is causing a problem, we are to ask the coach to control any spectator whose behavior is unacceptable.  If the association of this spectator with one team or the other is unclear or disputed, then we engage both coaches.  The coaches must find ways to control the problem either through their own actions or  with the assistance of other spectators or, if necessary, through recourse to external authorities (e.g., a park or school employee responsible for the grounds on which the competition is being held).  At no time do we interact  directly with the offending spectator.  If one or both coaches and/or “their” spectators or the intervention of field marshals or park police do not resolve the problem, then the only remaining option is to suspend the game or terminate it altogether. Full details in the match report.  Note that at no time is an AR authorized to act on their own – apart from bringing the problem to the referee’s attention, an AR has no separate, independent authority to act here,

Of course, if the referee terminates the match (and he or she is the only one who can), then the officiating team should gather at least briefly before dispersing to make sure that the referee has sufficient information from all members of the team to complete the match report.  An AR leaving on his or own initiative is a serious breach of professional ethics – except perhaps in the case of traumatic injury.  Whether an AR or both ARs leave is not directly material as regards the continuation of the game.  After all, the assignment of ARs to a game is not mandatory – many games start and/or finish with only one or no ARs.  If such a departure occurs without the specific permission of the Referee, that is grounds for the Referee to file a complaint regarding this behavior with the assignor and/or the local referee association.

Your reference to “not agreeing with anything he [an AR] was doing” is peculiar because, at all times, the AR is under the authority of the Referee and is there expressly to assist the Referee in all matters, even if the AR disagrees with the decisions of the Referee.  If the AR’s  disagreement with your decisions is sufficient enough and/or serious enough, the AR is free to file a complaint with the assignor and/or local referee association when the game is over or to simply make it known that he/she would not wish to be assigned to work with that Referee again in the future.

Finally, games at all levels have been held for decades without ARs so there should be no need to terminate a game merely if one or both of the ARs have left.  At the same time, Law 6 specifically provides for either or both ARs to be dismissed by the Referee:

The match officials operate under the direction of the referee. In the event of undue interference or improper conduct, the referee will relieve them of their duties and make a report to the appropriate authorities.

This “solution” is and should be rare, but it does clearly confirm the Law’s assumption that the Referee carries the ultimate authority … even with regard to the other match officials.

Abandoning a Match

A youth referee asks:

Can the Ref abandon the match and not tell the coaches? Had a situation where the Ref said that, in his eyes, the match was over after a parent and coach came on the pitch to stop two kids fighting then ended up fighting themselves. The Ref never blew for full time but said to the other coach it’s finished anyway. Now in his report he is saying he abandoned the game but did not tell anyone this. Can he do this?  I am a a Ref myself and don’t know.

Answer

Not wishing to be flippant but the obvious answer is, yes, he can do this … because he did it.  And we’re not sure how the Referee could do anything more to signal that the match has been terminated beyond leaving the field himself.

On a more serious note, the referee is given the authority to terminate a match due to what used to be called “grave disorder” — which means any events on or around the field which would cause the Referee to be concerned about the ongoing safety of the players or the officiating team based on actions by the players, substitutes, team officials, and/or spectators.  By the way, the Law no longer distinguishes between “abandoning” a match or “terminating” a match — the terms are used interchangeably.  There is no particular need to blow the whistle to announce this but, in practice, the whistle has usually already being blown (perhaps numerous times!) in response to the events which eventually resulted in the decision to terminate the game (in this case, the start of the players fighting).

Just based on the information provided, it would seem that termination would not be considered an incorrect response to (a) players fighting, (b) a coach and a parent entering the field illegally (which would be the case if the Referee didn’t explicitly give them permission to enter) and (c) then themselves fighting.  That would definitely be a “hostile environment” not conducive to trying to get the teams back onto the field after removing the fighters and expecting the teams to play peacefully.  It might have been useful to officially notify both teams that the match was being terminated with a simple statement that the decision was required based on a concern for everyone’s safety.  Neither is required.

Anytime the Referee ends a match via termination (or abandonment), full details must be included in the match report.  Further, most leagues, tournaments, referee coordinators, or assignors appreciate a quick telephone call or email message alerting them to the likelihood of further “discussion” about what happened.

DETERMINING THE RESTART WHEN AN OUTSIDE AGENT ENTERS THE FIELD

Question:
Before the ball enters the goal from an attacking player’s shot, a spectator enters the field of play and slightly touches the ball with his hand but does not manage to stop the goal. What decision should the referee make?

Answer (November 15, 2015):
In such cases, the referee must follow the guidance on p. 66 of the Laws of the Game:

Outside agents
Anyone not indicated on the team list as a player, substitute or team official is deemed to be an outside agent, as is a player who has been sent off.
If an outside agent enters the field of play:
• the referee must stop play (although not immediately if the outside agent does not interfere with play)
• the referee must have him removed from the field of play and its immediate surroundings
• if the referee stops the match, he must restart play with a dropped ball from the position of the ball when the match was stopped, unless play was stopped inside the goal area, in which case the referee drops the ball on the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the point nearest to where the ball was located when play was stopped

In your situation, Law 3 requires that the referee determine whether or not the outside agent—here the spectator—has truly interfered with play. Only the referee on the game can determine this; not the players, not the team officials, no one but the referee, with advice from the ARs, if necessary.

THE RULE OF INVERSE STUPIDITY

Question:
Why would a referee for a U11 game eject a parent/spectator from the game for yelling “Communicate with your partner” to the referee. They never said hey ref, or anything, just stood up and yelled “Communicate with your partner”. This also lead to suspension of the next game for the spectator as well as being suspended from attending practices until the spectator attended a hearing which is complete BS in this league anyways. Where does one go to report this referee for abuse of his postion? I am guessing he violated some sort of code of conduct.

My answer (April 30, 2012):
No, there would not appear to have been any violation of any code of conduct, other than by the parent. This is NOT Little League baseball, for goodness’ sake. However, the referee would appear to have violated my rule of inverse stupidity: The less you know, the more you call.

UNDUE INTERFERENCE/IMPROPER CONDUCT BY AR (AND SPECTATOR)

Question:
Two quick questions, at the half of a u18 game. AR approaches the center,and states the center is “calling for the other side” Center tells AR the game is being called for both sides. AR argues the point,and is asked by the center to return to their sideline,AR at such time throws down their flag,and quits the game. Is this not a very poor behavior,and an example by the AR,who is also a referee? forget if LAW 5 or 6 covers AR. is this not reportable to the local association. second during a very physical game, team A and Team B are struggling for the ball,play continues. center verbally warns both players about use of elbows. A spectator jumps up out of their seat on the sideline in a aggressive manner,moves to the touch line,ands starts yelling at center about elbows. center approaches partway to sideline, tells spectator both players have been warned,and it’s under control,to sit back down. after game same spectator enters the field,and approaches the center, verbally assaults,and threatens the center. spectator is instructed to leave the field. does the referee retreat,or does he still have the field?

USSF answer (November 2, 2011):
Regarding the assistant referee, Law 6 tells us: “In the event of undue interference or improper conduct, the referee will relieve an assistant referee of his duties and make a report to the appropriate authorities,” using the the match report form each referee should fill out after every match. This AR has also failed to live up to the Referee Code of Ethics and could be brought up on charges under U. S. Soccer Federation Policy 531-10 – Misconduct of Game Officials .

Regarding the aggressive spectator, Law 5 tells us that the referee stops, suspends or abandons the match because of outside interference of any kind. Before abandoning the game, however, the referee should ask the home team (tournament/league officials, if present) to have the person removed. If there is no help from these officials, then the match is abandoned and the referee includes full details in the match report.

SPECTATOR DEFIES RULES OF COMPETITION

Question:
state association has a issued a memo stating that only players,and coaches on the roster may be in the bench area. situation a spectator places a seat between the players bench,and the goal line on the players side of the field before the match starts. This spectator is asked three times by center official to move,spectator refuses. spectator asks if he doesn’t move what will happen, official responds that they will be asked to leave. spectator responds that isn’t permissible,as it is in a public park. what is the rule?

USSF answer (September 14, 2011):
In a case like this, the referee should work through any league/tournament representative on site or, if none, through one or both coaches, with their incentive being that the match is suspended until the spectator leaves in compliance with the competition authority’s rules and the match will be terminated if compliance is not achieved within a reasonable period of time.

STOP, SUSPEND, ABANDON OR TERMINATE?

Question:
On what grounds can a referee stop and abandon a soccer match

USSF answer (March 31, 2010):
An interesting question, one that requires a good bit of space to answer completely.

Under the Laws of the Game (or, as they are called in Great Britain, the Laws of Association Football), the referee has the power to stop, suspend or abandon the match, at his discretion for any infringements of the Laws or for outside interference of any kind. A referee (or where applicable, an assistant referee or fourth official) is not held liable for a decision to abandon a match for whatever reason.

We need first to differentiate between “abandon” and “terminate” a match. The difference between terminating a match and abandoning a match is a subtle one, but it is historically correct and supported by traditional practice. (Research into the history of the Laws will reveal this clearly; the IFAB now uses “abandon” almost exclusively, most likely just to confuse us all.) The referee may abandon a match if there is an insufficient number of players to meet the requirements of the Law or the competition, if a team does not appear or leaves before completion of the game, or if the field or any of its equipment do not meet the requirements of the Laws or are otherwise unsafe; i. e., for technical (Law 1) or physical (Law 4) safety. An abandoned match is replayed unless the competition rules provide otherwise. The referee may terminate a match for reasons of non-physical safety (bad weather or darkness), for any serious infringement of the Laws, or because of interference by spectators. Only the competition authority, not the referee, has the authority to declare a winner, a forfeit, or a replay of the match in its entirety. The referee must report fully on the events. “Suspended” means that a match was stopped temporarily for any of various reasons. After that the match is either resumed, abandoned, or terminated and the competition rules take over.

CONDITION OF THE FIELD (AND APPURTENANCES)
• Law 1 states that if the crossbar becomes displaced or broken, play is stopped until it has been repaired or replaced in position. If it is not possible to repair the crossbar, the match must be abandoned. In addition, if the referee declares that one spot on the field is not playable, then the entire field must be declared unplayable and the game abandoned.

• A careful inspection of the field before the start of the game might lead the referee to abandon the game before it was started. If, once the match has begun, the referee discovers a problem that is not correctable, then the referee’s decision must be to abandon the game and report the matter to the competition authority.

• Under Law 5, the referee is authorized to stop play if, in his opinion, the floodlights are inadequate.

INTERFERENCE BY PLAYERS, OTHER PARTICIPANTS, OR SPECTATORS
If an object thrown by a spectator hits the referee or one of the assistant referees or a player or team official, the referee may allow the match to continue, suspend play or abandon the match depending on
the severity of the incident. He must, in all cases, report the incident(s) to the appropriate authorities. Using the powers given him by Law 5, the referee may stop, suspend or terminate the match, at his discretion, for any infringements of the Laws or for grave disorder (see below). If he decides to terminate the match, he must provide the appropriate authorities with a match report which includes information on any disciplinary action taken against players, and/or team officials and any other incidents which occurred before, during or after the match. In no event may the referee determine the winner of any match, terminated or not. Nor may the referee decide whether or not a match must be replayed. Both of those decisions are up to the competition authority, i. e., the league, cup, tournament, etc.

“Grave disorder” would be any sort of dustup involving the players and/or spectators and/or team officials which puts the officials in immediate or likely subsequent jeopardy — fights which metastasize beyond just 2 or 3, masses of spectators invading the pitch, throwing dangerous objects (e. g., firecrackers, butane lighters, etc.) onto the field, and so forth.

THE NUMBER OF PLAYERS
• The referee has no authority to force a team to play if they do not wish to continue a game nor to terminate the match in such a case. The referee will simply abandon the game and include all pertinent details in the match report.

• In the opinion of the International F.A. Board, a match should not be considered valid if there are fewer than seven players in either of the teams. If a team with only seven players is penalized by the award of a penalty-kick and as a consequence one of their players is sent off, leaving only six in the team, the game must be abandoned without allowing the penalty-kick to be taken unless the national association has decided otherwise with regard to the minimum number of players.

• The referee must not abandon the game if a team loses a kicker after kicks from the mark begin. The kicks must be completed.

• If a player has been seriously injured and cannot leave the field without risking further injury, the referee must stop the game and have the player removed. If, for whatever reason, there is no competent person available to oversee removal of the seriously injured player from the field for treatment, then the match must be abandoned.

• If player fraud is alleged prior to the game and the player will admit that he is not the person on the pass he has presented and the game has already begun, the referee will have to deal with the matter of an outside agent on the field. If the fraud were not discovered until after the game had been restarted, the only solution would be to abandon the match. If there is no goal issue, the fraudulent player is removed and the game is restarted with a dropped ball.

• If a player, from a team with only seven players, leaves the field of play to receive medical attention, the match will stop until this player has received treatment and returns to the field of play. If he is unable to return, the match is abandoned, unless the member association has decided otherwise with regard to the minimum number of players.

In all cases, the referee must submit a full report to the appropriate authorities.

AMOUNT OF TIME PLAYED
If the referee discovers that a period of play was ended prematurely but a subsequent period of play has started, the match must be abandoned and the full details of the error included in the game report.

TEAM OFFICIALS
The Laws make the point that the coach and other team officials must BEHAVE RESPONSIBLY and thus may not shout, curse, interfere, or otherwise make a nuisance of themselves The coach’s presence, or the presence of any other team official, is generally irrelevant to the game — under the Laws of the Game, but it may have some importance under the rules of youth competitions. If the coach or other team official is removed, known in the Law as “expelled,” that person must leave the field and its environs. If it is a youth game and the coach and all other team officials have been expelled, then the referee should consider abandoning the game. A full report must be filed with the competition authority. The referee has no authority to determine who has won or lost the game, whether by forfeit or any other process; that is the responsibility of the competition authority. The referee must file a report on all events associated with the abandonment.

RESULT OF THE MATCH
Once the game begins, only the referee has the right to decide whether the game continues, is suspended temporarily, terminated or abandoned. If a game is abandoned or terminated before it is completed, the determination of the result is up to the competition authority (league, cup, tournament). In most cases, competitions declare that if a full half has been played, the result stands, but that does not apply to all competitions. The referee does not have the authority to declare what the score is or who has won the game. The referee’s only recourse is to include in his game report full details of what caused the match to be abandoned or terminated. The status of an abandoned is determined by the rules of the competition or the competition authority itself. There is no set amount of time, but many rules of competition will call a game complete if a full half has been played.

PROTECTING THE GOALKEEPER; PITCH INVASION

Question:
hi, i have two question. The first questionis which rule protects the goalie. I know there is a rule that says that nobody should touch the goalie when he has possession of hte ball. The second question is about parents invading the field. Is there any rules that says anything about parents invading the field and insulting the players. IS because i had a problem on a game of boys from 7 and 8 graders, were one player from the opposite team would kick or use exesive force towards the goalie when he had the ball. After a play were one of the other team player was down, parents from the opposite team enter the field and yelled and insulted my player. I need the laws or rules that have to do with these two problems to be able to send a letter. Thank you.

USSF answer (May 14, 2009):
1. Protecting the goalkeeper:
There is no rule that “protects the goalie” from contact initiated by other players — as long as that contact is not against the requirements for a fair charge and does not happen when the goalkeeper is attempting to release the ball for others to play — in other words, to punt or throw the ball out of the penalty area.

2. Pitch invasion by parents:
No person may enter the field without the permission of the referee.

Law 3 tells us:
“Anyone not indicated on the team list as a player, substitute or team official is deemed to be an outside agent as is a player who has been sent off.

“If an outside agent enters the field of play:
– the referee must stop play (although not immediately if the outside agent does not interfere with play)
– the referee must have him removed from the field of play and its immediate surroundings
– if the referee stops the match, he must restart play with a dropped ball in the position where the ball was at the time when the match was stopped, unless the ball was stopped inside the goal area, in which case the referee drops the ball on the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the point nearest to where the ball was when play was stopped.”

However, please note that as a practical matter where rosters are not provided, anyone permitted to be in the technical area (other than substitutes, of course) is to be considered a team official.

Law 5 tells us:
The referee may stop, suspend or abandon the match for any infringements of the Laws or because of outside interference of any kind. The referee also provides the appropriate authorities with a match report, which includes information on any disciplinary action taken against players, and/or team officials and any other incidents that occurred before, during or after the match. This includes any other decision that the referee may take in accordance with the Laws of the Game or in conformity with his duties under the terms of FIFA, confederation, member association or league rules or regulations under which the match is played.

Also note that the actual entry of the outside agents (spectators) is not the only — or even the most — important issue — it is that the invaders are yelling at and berating players.  In instances of this sort of behavior, the referee would not simply drop the ball for a restart, but would would terminate the match for “grave disorder.”

INSTRUCTIONS FROM THE SIDELINES

Question:
What is the proper way to handle parents who coach from the spectator area, or as I suspect, teams who place coaches on the spectator side for purposes of being able to instruct players from both sides of the field? Some of these spectator coaches will cross the field at halftime to instruct players in the technical area. What can I, as an official do to stop this?

USSF answer (May 7, 2009):
Unless there is some rule of competition that prohibits coaches from mingling with the spectators and carrying on their role as coach(es), then there is nothing the referee can do about such action during the game. A rule of competition prohibiting coaching from the spectator area is unenforceable unless the competition itself is willing to place monitors in the spectator area. Think about it: How can the referee determine whether some parent yelling generally nonsensical and confusing things at the players is simply a parent or is instead a coach in disguise yelling generally nonsensical and confusing things at the players? The coach’s job should be done in the period before the game begins, in the week preceding the game and over the course of the season. There is little of value to be gained by yelling instructions across a field.

As to crossing the field at halftime to issue further instructions to the players, again there is not much the referee can do without help from the competition itself. As a practical matter, the field is open territory at the midgame break and there shouldn’t be a problem if a parent (or whoever) from the parent side wants to cross the field to be with the team, player, coach, etc. on the other side — nor would we have a problem if the coach left the team side at halftime to go across the field to talk to a parent on the other side.  In short, unless the crossing is for nefarious purposes and/or causes a confrontation, the referee crew has more important things to do than keep people off the field at midgame break.

REFEREE AND PLAYER EQUIPMENT

Question:
I was watching a game on TV from England’s premier league and was surprised to see a player with a diamond on each ear lobe during the whole game. I’m concluding the center referee didn’t care about this infraction because it was obvious that four officials couldn’t possible have missed this glaring jewelry. I suppose he thought it was not hazardous.

It was demeaning to the game to see a player in repeated closeups flashing his elegance right at the referee team. Then I thought assisting the assigned referee does not mean capitulation to his peculiar whims. So, what course is available to the assistant referees and fourth official? Can they refuse the assignment until the center referee gives way or should they just take it in stride and report it in their game report?

USSF answer (November 17, 2008):
The longer we live, the more we see — and the more we notice that both players and referees sometimes flout the Laws of the Game, or at least fail to follow them clearly and logically.

No, the assistant referee and the fourth official may not boycott the game for referee failures of this sort. They can certainly make their observations known and must then cooperate with all instructions from the referee that do not cause the assistants or fourth official themselves to violate the Laws. If the failure by the referee is an egregious one, then the assistant(s) or fourth official should report it to the appropriate authorities.